Better With Sprinkles

The Colourful Side to Healthy Living.

freEDom: Breaking Away from Perfectionist Tendencies.

31 Comments

I took a few weeks off due to the holidays, but I’m happy to be back and celebrating Sloane’s freEDom from Perfection campaign.

Click on over to find out more about the campaign!

When I was reading Gaining a few weeks ago (check out my full review here), I took note of all the research on the personality traits and behaviours of sufferers. Apparently, research has found a lot in common personality-wise between people that develop eating disorders

The one that jumped out at me the most? Research on the temperaments of people with eating disorders by psychologists Drew Weston and Jennifer Harnden-Fischer out of Boston University in 2001. Their research found that people who battle (and have battled) eating disorders tend to fall into one of three distinct categories.

1. Overcontrolled: “they avoid social contact, tightly control their appetites for food and for sex, limit their pleasures and withdraw from excitement, sensation and risk.”

2. Perfectionistic: “the conscientious good girls who aim to please, excel, and conform. They worry about the details but are often so fearful of making a mistake that they can’t get their work in on time. They read an arched eyebrow as contempt, a frown as a stiletto through the heart. They are intensely self-critical.”

3. Undercontrolled: “their emotions are intense, their behaviours are impulsive, they tend to fly into rages instead of expressing their anger passively or turning it inwards, and they desperately seek relationships to soothe themselves”.”

(American Journal of Psychiatry, as cited by Aimee Liu)

When I read this over, number two positively leapt off the page at me. That is my personality down to a tee. As I’ve mentioned before, I was (and continue to be, in some respects) an absolute perfectionist. In the past, I would approach everything with high expectations for myself, and be disappointed when I (predictably) couldn’t meet them. If I didn’t think I could do it, I would suddenly decide that I didn’t care anymore, because I couldn’t handle trying something and not meeting my ridiculous expectations.

And of course, part two of that category: self criticism and fear of making a mistake. Whether it’s in a social or professional situation (such as schoolwork) I’m always afraid of making a mistake or messing up. I didn’t talk about it on the blog, but I spent the first semester of grad school feeling terrified that I wasn’t smart enough or good enough for a Master’s Degree, and that I was going to be kicked out of the program quickly. I had an absolute breakdown over my the first paper I had to hand in, convinced that my professors were going to look it over and wonder how the hell I managed to get this far in academia. Of course, this didn’t happen. Over the months, I worked on quieting that inner criticism and managed to finish with better marks than I usually got in my undergrad. By not letting myself stress out and analyze every last detail of every assignment I had, I actually did better than usual.

I still need work in this respect when it comes to social situations. If I notice someone seems out of sorts or angry, I immediately jump to the conclusion that it was something that I said or did. I sometimes don’t speak up in social situations, because I’m afraid  that something I have to say will come off as stupid or pointless, and I’ll be judged accordingly. I know how ridiculous this is and I’ve been getting increasingly frustrated with myself over it. And aiming to please? Absolutely – I have a tendency to bend over backwards to make sure that other people are happy, even if it’s at the expense of my happiness sometimes. When Lui states that recovery is more about the the journey and self-discovery, I agree. I may not be disordered anymore, but there are still aspects of my temperament and behaviour that could be adjusted for the sake of my own happiness. 

So while I feel like I’ve gained freedom from my inner perfectionist, I’m still working on moving past my inner doormat and speaking up about what I think and how I feel. I know my opinion and feelings are important, even if it’s something that the other person doesn’t want to hear. So, I’m going to work on speaking my mind more, and not worrying about how the other person will think or react. 

<— Do you have perfectionist or always-aiming-to-please tendencies? How do you deal with them?

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31 thoughts on “freEDom: Breaking Away from Perfectionist Tendencies.

  1. I can relate to this completely! I’ve always been a huge perfectionist, especially when it comes to school. In high school I would be disappointed with myself if I didn’t get higher than a 95. Luckily I’ve lightened up my standards a bit, but I’m still really hard on myself. It’s something I’m working on!

  2. Hello twin 🙂 Your self description is me, as well, and is also something that I’m working on, especially socially. I’m so afraid of sounding/looking dumb sometimes that I’ll stay super quiet and then the people I’m with think something is wrong, I’m not having fun, or I’m a snob and think I’m too good to talk to them (have been called that more than once sadly)…and none of that is fair to anyone. So I’m working on getting out there, even if I don’t necessarily feel like it (since I think a lot of it is fear), and speaking up…not always easy and not always successful but I’m better than I used to be, so I’ll take that as progress 🙂

  3. Ahhh yes. I’ve been in both category 2 and three, but I think 3 was just a post-treatment center total rejection of the number 2 life that I had lived for so long. Regardless, I feel your pain on this one.
    I agree that the social situations are much harder to overcome. This is what I’ve learned to love about the recovery process though. Being forced to open yourself up so much during the treatment process teaches us how to be in a constant state of self-examination, learning and growing. Love you girl!

  4. I also struggle with my “inner doormat” especially in a working, professional environment. If I have even the slightest doubt in what I’m saying that I might possibly be wrong, I’m afraid to say anything because Heaven forbid if I make a mistake and do something imperfect! The hardest part is to be aware of what you’re struggling with…once you’re aware of it you can work on changing it. I’ll be working on speaking up more right alongside you!

  5. i agree with this 100% ! i too was a perfectionist with school and even the littlest things id get psycho over because i needed to be in control of everything.. and social situations is def something im working on to, i always seem to do whatever to make anyone happy and feel nothing is ever given in return thats why lately ive been dropping those friends because once i started to speak up they didnt like it.. go figure !

  6. yep those really describe me to the t too. the inner perfectionist voice is where I still struggle and the voice I still try to combat on a daily basis. it is so hard though to just let that voice go and allow that wiggle room. practice practice practice

  7. I am the same way in that if someone seems angry or upset, I immediately think it was something I did, rather than consider that there is more going on that doesn’t involve me at all. I think our society in particular has a lot of individuals with perfectionistic tendencies – which can cause a lot of growth in certain ways but can also hinder us. Like you, I have slowly but surely been freeing myself from perfectionistic tendencies over time and it always feels so great when I realize how differently I handled a situation than I would’ve in the past.

  8. I’m such a perfectionist and a control freak. It’s something I could really work on to fully reach recovery. Things can’t always go our way but they can still be fun. I think if we just start relinquishing control once in awhile, it will get easier. I know you can do it and so can I!

  9. I was a lot like #2 (still have many tendencies)<—esp with school, boyfriends, myself, dance, and anything I was semi-good at it! I am so glad I am less controlling & working on trying to 'have it all be perfect'. It's just TOO exhausting & so not fun for us & those involved! great post!

  10. This is so amazing that you can tap into this and explain the way you feel. So admirable! 🙂

  11. That’s SO me! I am always assuming it was my fault, that I angered someone. I get so afraid that someone will get mad at me and hence bend over backwards to make everyone happy. I’ve been afraid of being “yelled at” since I was little, I don’t quite know when it started but it’s all I can remember. I’ve gotten better at speaking my mind and “doing me” but man it’s tough. What I try to do is look at how I’m judging myself and then put that standard on someone I care about. It immediately looks like a ridiculous standard. So why do I have to impose it on myself – when I care about me?

  12. I can definitely relate to the perfectionism. It wasn’t until last year that I was really able to let go of being perfect all of the time. Throughout high school and university I spent waaaay too much time studying (yes, it is possible!) because I was obsessed with getting perfect grades. At my first ‘real’ job, I wanted to be perfect all of the time too. Now that my job encompasses 5+ different roles, I find it is too stressful to expect myself to be perfect all the time. I do a little bit of each job every day and just try to do the best I can. I think by letting go of the need to be perfect it actually makes me better at my job!

  13. The black and white thinking of perfectionism – oh how well I know it. I was the same way with either having to do something perfectly or trying to convince myself that I didn’t care anything about it. I’d always put things off until the last minute because the impossibly high expectations I’d place on myself would scare me away from wanting to attempt to do anything until I basically couldn’t put it off anymore. Hehe… I’m talking about this all like it’s in the past, but it’s still something I struggle with on a pretty regular basis. I honestly don’t even know if a personality can be changed, but I’m constantly working on becoming more accepting of ‘less-than-perfect’

  14. Hmm .. I wonder how they assessed the personalities. Personally, I think everyone in this world believe that he/she is a perfectionist – I think everyone is inclined to believe that they always want to achieve perfection!

  15. It was really strange to read this … when I read the first definition, it struck me as totally me. But then the second did as well. And then so did the third. Honestly, on any given week, I can swing through all three of these, depending on the day (to a lesser extent these days, but I still feel all of those qualities represent me still). Being aware of this can only bring me strength and wisdom, but sometimes I wish I weren’t up against so much …. Guess I’ll just need to keep fighting harder. 😉
    I certainly hope that you can continue to step away from these tendencies, one imperfect moment (without guilt) at a time!! 😀

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